Public to schools: Next superintendent should be active in community

Published 10:57 am Saturday, March 1, 2014

FRANKLIN—Invested. Supportive. Visible. Articulate. Passionate.

These are characteristics that many people said they want to see in the next superintendent of Franklin public schools. Eleven people from an audience of about 50 spoke at a public hearing Thursday night before the city school board.

With this event and a survey, the membership has begun its search for a new superintendent. Dr. Michelle Belle was informed in January that her contract would not be renewed.

“I want to see someone and hear they’re out and about at football games, cutting grass and just being a presence. That’s a starting point,” said Chris Novakoski of Franklin, who teaches at Lakeland High School.

Josette Sthole-Hayes, president of the PTA at S.P. Morton Elementary, also wants a person involved in the three schools.

“Our next superintendent should be active and who does come out to events,” she said. “I have never once seen our superintendent at our events. Very saddening.

“How hard is it to come out and support our events? Come out and support our children.”

Jim Rainey started to suggest the board hire an interim superintendent to help with the turnaround, but Edna King, chairwoman, stopped him and explained that wasn’t the purpose of the hearing.

Will Councill of Ward 1 said he’s heard from other people asking the board to take its time, but also noted the membership has 180 days starting from the time of Belle’s vacancy to hire another school leader.

Bob Traynor asked the board members what they wanted to see in a new school leader. but King said this was a time for the public’s input.

Frank Rabil recommended finding a superintendent who’s been experienced in a turnaround situation and has “a proven track record.”

Clyde Johnson said he thought the survey was inclusive while filling it out Wednesday night.

“I cannot agree more with the other speakers,” said Johnson. “The superintendent will have to be out more and visible in the community.”

Another important feature is they be able to teach.

“We would like to see the next superintendent embrace the idea of parents as first teachers,” said Andrea Hall Leonard. She and her husband are the parents of six children in the city school system.

Leonard would like for parents to be welcome to participate in school advisory boards and committees. She added that the future leader also be involved in the community, such as through civic groups. Further, Leonard wants to the next superintendent to be involved with “not just at-risk students, but also special needs and gifted students.

In addition to holding staff accountable, Leonard wants the person hired to be “passionate about education.”

The Rev. Ed Pickup said he wants to emphasize that the superintendent “needs to be remarkably articulate and amazingly well organized.”

Further, the new leader will have to serve as a public relations representative for the city schools, and let the Hampton Roads area – and beyond – know of the progress that Franklin is making in education.

Brent Kimlick said the superintendent should be a city resident, although “it’s not necessary they attend every event.”

The board also needs to make sure that person’s in place before contracts are signed.

“Your superintendent needs to know how to be an educator,” he said. “They need to be a consensus-builder, and to strengthen and enhance the volunteer base, which we under-utilize.”

David Benton wants the superintendent “to be a critical thinker. They should have a heavy background in curriculum and instruction. Not all administrators have this. They should dress professionally and come to work daily.

“They should lead by example, and live in the city of Franklin. They should go to church, the grocery store…and immerse themselves in the community. Be in our school buildings, not just at the central office.”

King thanked everyone who attended and spoke.

“We appreciate you…and we assure you we’ll give the matter diligent attention,” she said.

The next step for the school board is to have a meeting and review the survey results, and look again at what the speakers want for qualifications, as well as discuss its own, and “wait for applications to come in.”